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All that glitters might be 'Autobahngold'...

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All that glitters might be 'Autobahngold'...
Photo: DPA
13:48 CET+01:00
Good Samaritan motorists pay the price as fraudsters target Germany's highways with a fake jewellery scam.

A search of a Mercedes with German licence plates on a Bavarian motorway on Monday revealed nothing until suspicious officers looked inside the wheel arch. There, tucked out of sight, they found a stash of 40 'gold' chains.

"Presents for my loved ones," explained the driver, a 37-year-old unemployed Romanian, who turned out to be wanted for questioning over fake gold scamming by prosecutors in Saarbrücken and Darmstadt.

Why he would hide such valuable gifts in the car's bodywork, he declined to say. Investigators later confirmed the gold was fake.

"Because he was known to the authorities for previous gold fraud we confiscated the chains and sent them for examination," said a spokesman for the police in Raubling.

In this case, the man's previous form is likely to work against him. But while fraud is a felony, in most cases there is only so much the police can do when scams come to light.

Either the culprits are long gone, or if someone is apprehended, it can be one person's word against another.

Scammers can also claim they were unaware that their precious property was fake and that they had offered it in good faith.

Same old sob story

Widespread and a regular feature of police incident reports, Autobahn gold scams usually follow much the same recipe.

A distressed motorist stands by an apparently broken-down car until someone stops to help. A sob story about having no petrol to get home or having been mugged softens the target.

The scammer then offers a valuable piece of jewellery and a business card - also fake - as insurance, promising to redeem the item or items later.

Victims may typically give anything from €20-150 euros to help get the person on their way again - only to never hear from them again.

A simpler version reported in service stations is a common scam in European capitals like Paris. The deception hinges on a chance 'find' of a gold ring by a scammer, within sight of the intended victim.

The finder shrugs and says they aren't interested in it and the other person is welcome to take it - but could they give a few euros so the finder can have a cup of coffee.

Visions of a happy windfall lure the victim. Repeated dozens of times in a day, the proceeds can far outweigh the cost of the fake rings.

To help the con along, chains, bracelets and rings often carry fake stamps like '18ct - 0,750', denoting them as 18-carat gold, which is 75 percent pure.

But it is not just questionable gold that's in play, say police.

"Be careful if strangers in an apparent emergency situation offer to sell you objects," reads a warning issued this month by the Hamburg police.

"As well as the scam with so-called Autobahngold, trusting people are being caught out again and again by supposedly valuable leather jackets, carpets, loud speakers and other electrical goods, which later turn out to be worthless."

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